The following (huge) story appeared in Privateer magazine #10 (August/September ’12). I feel extremely fortunate to be able to work with Privateer because they truly aim to tell the story of mountain biking behind the “news” and “releases”. More so, when I handed them my ridiculously large story regarding the history of the North Shore of Vancouver they didn’t laugh at me but rather gave the story the page space and the room to breath in the layout. When I started this project I knew it was going to be a beast. The more I researched the more I found the story went deeper and deeper. In the end I had to focus on just a few elements of the history (and save the rest for later). The questions I sought to answer with this story were: when did mountain bikes first appear on the Shore and how did that forge the future of the trails? One thing that might surprise some people is that mountain bikes were around for a long time on the Shore before the radical freeriding North Shore style emerged. In fact, the freeride style of ladder bridges, skinnies, and hucks came very late.
I would like to thank all the people who gave me their time and passion regarding this project. It was a huge undertaking to interview so many people (and track some of them down), most of which are mentioned in this story but others who don’t feature but whose insight really helped. Thank you to Sarah Fenton, Chad Romalis, Jerry Willows, Dan Cowan, Wade Simmons, Todd Fiander, Mark Wood, Cam McRae (nsmb.com), Lee Lau, Jonny Smoke, Jim Leppard particularly, but I ask for forgiveness if I left your name out as so many other people I met on the Shore helped anecdotally. I would not have been able to even begin this project unless I had moved to the Shore last winter and just let the tide of history ripple over me every time I spoke with a rider there. Thank you North Vancouver, BC.
I posted this here in the hopes that it pushes more people to tracking down and reading Privateer Magazine. In issue ten alone there were so many other amazing stories from all around the world and village of mountain biking. Each issue of Privateer is similarly jam-packed with inspirational and interesting stories. Subscriptions are available worldwide and although it might seem pricey, each issue is a keeper. I have a complete set that is pride of place on its own shelf.
Everything Goes In Cycles
The North Shore Lineage
By Seb Kemp
There are formidable fossils in these hills. Backbones of giants and skeletons of beasts lie on the forest floor slowly being consumed by the forest as decay and neglect set in. They are the decrepit remains of once mighty monsters that delighted and terrified the local inhabitants in equal measure.
They came from seed and grew to titans until one day when man or wind turned their heavenly ascent into a short lifetime of lying prostrate. Appropriated and roughly fabricated they were reincarnated as contraptions upon which mortal men would test their capacity to balance on the thin edge between disaster and triumph. Now they slowly die again and become part of the natural cycle of the forest once more.
The North Shore mountains have seen many cycles already and the rainforest barely registers the more recent activities of man under its canopy.
The mighty cedars that once dominated the North Shore mountains once grew to magnificent giants, some 300 feet tall, until land was cheap and wood was valued high. In the later half of the 19th century and for nearly the next one hundred years the North Vancouver was extensively logged as demand for building materials rose dramatically as ships building, railway lines, and housing boomed. The tearing of saws and razor edged thumping of axes took down the hulking trunks. The canopy was torn further back like the lid on a tin can. All that remained was burnt out, hacked stumps and a littered floor of forestry cast offs piled upon each other in a jumble of timber. The towering rainforest columns that inhaled our waste and exhaled our life force were gone. Left open to the tireless Pacific storms rain battered the exposed slopes and washed the good soil downhill leaving just rock, wasting logs, and burn piles.
Eventually the forest regenerated, but the character was different. Hemlock, maple, fir and young cedar choke and crowd out much of the light. Deep duff coats the forest floor; a spongy matt of organic material made up mostly of the bits of tree that have shed. Log jams of rotting trees abound, thick roots lace through the matt and hunks of granite pierce through it all. The terrain is steep and haphazard, you can feel the sensation of claustrophobia and vertigo simultaneously.
It is dark, it is wet, and it is cluttered. No wonder then that when you stand amongst the soaring glass towers of downtown Vancouver and look north to the range of mountains that act as the opening drum beat of the Coast Mountain Range orchestra – Cypress most westerly, Grouse (or Fromme) Mountain centre stage and Seymour most easterly – all you can think is what a lovely backdrop the North Shore mountains give the city. It is even harder to imagine that just fifteen minutes from the bustle of the metropolis there is a labyrinth of mountain biking trails that somewhat redefined what was possible on a bicycle and are the birthplace and resting place of the most extraordinary, and frankly bizarre, environmental reinterpretations.
The history and legacy of trail building on the North Shore is remarkable. Arguably “The Shore” has inspired and evolved more aspects of mountain biking than any other area in the world. The progressive nature of trails that were being built on the North Shore of Vancouver have had a considerable and lasting impact mountain biking trends. These trails changed how we think bikes can be rode, they steered the technological direction of the sport, and they made it possible to grin because you just got away with it. Whatever it is.
While the sport of mountain biking can be somewhat fairly claimed to be invented in Marin Country, up the coast and across the border there were fat tire rumblings not long after. The hot spot above the 49th parallel was in a remote enclave of Vancouver called Deep Cove.
Deep Cove in the late seventies and early eighties was a bohemian little community of alternative folk who were attracted by the low coast of real estate and fringe location. The residents squeezed into the available land where Seymour mountain’s forested side slides into the bay off the Indian Arm, a branch of the Burrard Inlet at the easternmost point of North Vancouver. All that attached them to cosmopolitan Vancouver was a dusty road or a short paddle by kayak. It was so cut off and detached from Vancouver that people didn’t even know it was there, which was perfect for the foot loose and fancy free locals. Most of the townsfolk were devoted outdoor sportspeople who had adopted a lifestyle that would allow them to ski, kayak, waterski, or, soon to be, bike as much they wished.
Chaz Romalis and his buddies were ski and bike bums before the term even became rooted in such sports. They were all enrolled in college but only because it was the only way their parents would still house them, feed them and allow them as much time to indulge in their sporting passions – biking and waterskiing in the summer, skiing in the winter. Chaz and his friends began hybridizing bikes to suit their means, “Cruisers were what we called them. We were getting old bikes and spreading the back end open so we could make them multi-speed. Then we started to drive down to Santa Barbara to get Schwinn beach cruisers. We would stop in and buy Magura handlebars and brakes, you know, motorcycle stuff because it was the only thing that was strong enough for what we were doing.”
They weren’t the only ones north-of-the-border to be doing this but in their eyes they had no peers except for the righteous dudes in Marin County. The two-way trafficking of west coast cultural ingredients is something Chaz Romalis certainly remembers. He particularly attributes one particular west coast institution for the spark to open his enterprise.
“There was a Cove Bikes in Marin County as well. It was them that gave us the idea and know how to open a shop. We would go down every six weeks to ride. Santa Barbara was the mecca to ride. At the same time we would pick up parts. It was also a great excuse to party it up, ride our arses off and bring back cool parts.”
Upon returning from yet another mind-expanding road trip south and under pressure from their parents to get a job, Charles “Chaz” Romalis, Doug “Dewey” Lafavor, and Ashley “Nummers” Walker banded together to open Deep Cove Bike Shop.
At first they were building up off-road bicycles from cruisers frames with gears laced into 26” rims, but later they started specializing in Trailmaster cruisers built by the Koski Bros. in Tiburon, California and Cook Bros. cruisers from Santa Ana, California. Most of the bikes and parts had to be bought in the States and the prices reflected that. A Schwinn bike built up with a five speeds was sold for $2000. An astronomical price even Chaz would admit, but that was what you had to pay to get the genuine thing and people were willing to pay for it. The Cove boys were building a movement and anybody wanting to be in it had to pay the going rate. It was the price of cool.
“Looking at it from the outside, it seemed a little unprofessional. They opened at noon so they could waterski in the mornings and they had ‘an anything goes attitude’” affectionately recalls Sarah Fenton, a rider who grew up in Deep Cove. “The shop and its heady aroma seemed, to all of us, the kind of hedonistic life we all wanted to lead when we grew up, and we wanted to emulate them. You felt cool just by walking through those doors, which looking back, was the best marketing tool pre-internet possible. The boys wanted to be like them, the girls wanted to date them, and most of us did, she chuckles.”
As well as the bikes and parts they imported they brought the California culture with them too. They played Bob Marley and Frank Zappa records, wore boards-shorts not Spandex, had long hair and a Cali-drawl. They were cool and they knew it.
“At Cove there was an image. I’m not joking when I say it was just like The Fast Times at Ridgemount High. The attitude was unreal. However, the attitude was what made it. The arrogance and swagger made that place. I remember riding downhill and through the door of the shop with Frank Zappa playing. You felt like you had to buy something or these guys were going to kill you. It was a scene and a vibe. Legends hung out there.” Johnny Smoke also grew up in Deep Cove but was much younger than the Cove boys back at that time. Years later he would wind up working at the legendary store.
Without really trying the Cove boys were building a cult based off their aloof and devil may care image. “Everyone wanted to be like them, to emulate them. Boys wanted to be like them and girls wanted to date them, and most of us did at various stages”, chuckles Sarah.
But it wasn’t just the scene that was getting people excited, it was the deep rainforest on their doorstep and the opportunity it presented.
At the time most riding was done on skidder roads or in some cases hiking trails like the Baden Powell (broken up into sections but which make up a 48 KM traverse from Deep Cove to Horseshoe Bay) or Old Buck on Seymour. The trails were rough by the standards of the day but towards the later half of the 80s riders were looking for more adventurous trails. As well as the main hiking arteries there were a number of informal spurs trodden in by hikers wishing to access the higher elevations. Severed Dick (formally known as Good Samaritan) was one such trail and it was soon adopted by the bikers. It still is a rowdy line but back then it must have been atrocious to try and ride on fully rigid bikes with U-Brakes and bubble tires. This trail marked the start of something entirely different from the California scene and where the baton of progress was picked up by a different crew entirely.
“All the Cove boys were much older than us so we didn’t know what they were up to.
So I would get hiking books and figure out where the trails were. It took a long time till I realized that Chaz and Cove boys were riding more on double track, like road riding. I was trying to ride all these hairy hiking trails thinking that’s what the Cove boys were doing, but they weren’t.” Johnny Smoke recalls feeling even more isolated from his home crew than he thought. Then one day around 1991, while out riding on Seymour, he crew stumbled on a group of guys who had a similar outlook. The crew consisted of “Mountain Bike Mike” MacGregor, Todd “Digger” Fiander and “Dangerous” Dan Cowan. They were from across the Lynn Valley watershed and their home mountain was Fromme Mountain to the west. Unbeknown to either party, there had been parallel pioneering going on.
Jim Leppard, more familiar with the riding and riders on Fromme remembers, “There were lots of cliques. Deep Cove on Seymour had their own identity and they were ahead in many respects but we never saw Deep Cove because they were so far away.” Deep Cove to Lynn Valley (the community at the base of Fromme) takes ten minutes by car these days but in the 80s the transport network was still haphazard. A ride to an from Deep Cove by way of the Baden Powell trail could be an all day affair so these groups had remained isolated.
On Fromme (often referred to as Grouse mountain because of its proximity to the ski resort of that name) things were brewing. However, they had grown restless of winding up the forestry tracks then across and down hiking trails so they began to carve their own not so cheap thrills.
Ross Kirkwood had collaborated with Brian Ford to build “Kirkford”, and then moved onto building “Griffin”, and later, “7th Secret”. Mountain Bike Mike and Goat Legs Gabe had been explored all the mountain roads before scratching ludicrous descents like GMG. Jim Leppard had begun to explore his own lines and started out on “Oilcan” but at the time knew nothing of the other riders who were laying down the infrastructure. “I didn’t really know other people. I think I met guys who built “Pipeline” once, but I can’t be sure. I just saw some guys with tools in the distance”. Part of this was due to the Secret Trail Society whose mandate was to “keep trails hidden and the location of the trailheads passed on”. The goods were sub rosa.
At the time one particular man became addicted to putting his hands in the dirt and who would perhaps become the single most key person to putting the North Vancouver trails on the map. But there were a few decisive moments of providence between now and then.
Todd Fiander (more widely known as Digger for reasons that will become obvious) was a young guy with a passion for these new bikes. Throughout the 80s he and his chumleys (his phrase for his riding pals) would explore all the hiking trails, but there was always parts that were unrideable so he carved little reroutes. Then over on Brothers Creek road (an area of old growth forest on Cypress mountain) he made short sections of trail between the switchbacks. These detours and short cuts were pretty primitive, nothing more than fall line on the soft forgiving loam.
It was early freeriding before there was even such a thing. Corridors were cleared in the forest undergrowth and riders would skim downhill amongst the wood pillars. But it was the next trail that Digger helped work on, “The BIG I”, that the North Shore’s greatest contribution and startling innovation was laid.
While kicking foliage out of the way for this trail to pass Digger stumbled upon a rough cedar plank six inches wide about ten feet long and placed it over a divot that was about three feet deep. This was the very first “stunt” ever to be put on a trail and the effect it had got everyone hooked. “You were only three feet off the ground and there was a bank on either side to catch you, but it was the scariest thing. We freaked out every time we rode over it, but it wasn’t much.” Digger enthuses. Now riding these off-road bikes was not just for traveling to far off places, but as machines of thrill and danger.
It was around this time that the steep and deep mantra of the local powder skiing fraternity took hold. Rock faces were linked together to make a sequence of challenging moves down terrifying chutes or up and over hideous granite slabs. Trails like GMG, Expresso and Grannies started to explore the radical nature of the terrain. They slithered over and around the forest detritus, staking claim to the gnarliest of bits and taking the path of least resistance. This was far removed from the Californian style of plaid jacket clunking or Lycra mountain bike racing.
Then as the 90s dawned two particular figures rolled onto the Shore. With contrasting outlooks both of these pioneers added the last vital ingredients to the heady cocktail. Dan Cowan and Wade Simmons both arrived on the scene at almost the same time but from very different backgrounds and with widely different visions. Dan Cowan was a local boy who became instantly hooked on the thrills of the forest. Once he learnt of the secret trails he became committed to finding and mastering them.
Dan had a gift for muscling and finessing his way through terrain like no one else. He also had bravado in spadefuls, hence why Digger proclaimed upon first meeting him, “you’re dangerous” and the name stuck. He also had a fierce work ethic which he applied to building his own lines.
He started where “The Big I” finished off and started trying to continue the line further down over burly rock faces. However, it was when incorporated an obstacle into the trail that things changed gears.
Previously, fallen logs had been incorporated in so much as riders would ride over them using either their chain ring to climb over (these “humper logs” became the inspiration for bash guards) or perhaps small cedar ramps allowed riders to pass over them. However, no one, until Dangerous Dan arrived had thought to ride along the logs.
“Back then it was a novelty. You could say to your friends, ‘we rode the log ride today’ and they would know exactly what you meant and where it was because it was the only one. Nowadays they are everywhere.” Dan says proudly.
It was the start of the elevated phase and the builders were about to get really high.
On Fromme Digger was working on his new magnum opus, “Ladies Only”. It was this trail that brought all the elements of what was happening on the Shore and pioneered building techniques that would forever change the Shore and have far-reaching impact on the rest of the world.
Digger had been bridging small sections of trail using naturally occurring cedar planks for sometime but it struck him that he could span larger sections using ladder bridges made from the natural materials found in abundance in the forest. The wet coastal weather that beats into the mountains there results in an average of 166 days of precipitation a year. The terrain is wet and the ground underfoot is layered with a dense coat of organic material. Building trails is arduous work as creeks and marshlands need. The western red cedar that grows in the Pacific Northwest is tough, hardy and naturally resistant to rot so this wonder wood was put to use. Building bridges became not just the easiest, but the only way to link a complete trail in many cases. The North Shore was the first riding zone anywhere to integrate a ladder bridge in trail design.
Dangerous Dan recalls, “He was about half way through it [Ladies Only] when he said ‘yeah I’m going to build these ladder bridges across these mud pits.’ I immediately thought what a great idea. I can just build that anywhere as long as you have the right materials. And that is when the ladder bridge craze started.”
Like leap frog Digger and Dan were propelling each other forward with each break through the other would make. Dangerous Dan, however, had a William Webb Ellis moment and started running away in the most unsportsmanlike way. Dan possessed rather prodigious level of bike balance. Digger remembers “Dan is the kind of guys that could ride on one of those concrete meridians down Cypress, the whole way down. Five inches wide, three foot high on the side of the road, he would just ride all the way down.” Dan realized he has this rather unique skills so started building to his advantage. This was when Dan started to build his portfolio of preposterous trails where he made the ladder bridges narrower and narrower until they discarded the slats and just rode on the stringers. Then he began to elevate them higher and higher until they were merely balance beams hung somewhat towards the forest canopy. “A Walk In The Clouds” was the first trail which cast off from terra firma and became circus stunts in the sky.
These trails were built by Dan for Dan. These weren’t a community resource but rather Dan’s own treasures. However, other builders began to adopt the skinnie style and even though they didn’t reach for the same dizzy heights as Dan’s trails they did have imagination.
“It was like that game Mousetrap.” Wade Simmons remembers it as fun and games, “You would go for a ride for 3-4 hours and ride maybe only 2km because all you do is session. It was like skateboarding where kids try and rail slide for hours.”
The new challenge had slowed things down on the Shore remarkably. Built originally to allow easier movement through the dank forest, the woodwork was becoming the focus of the ride. Trails were now deliberately awkward.
Sterling Lorence, a rider as much as a photographic documentarian of the North Shore emergence remembers the trails as much for their mental strain as physical demands. “You would get mind fucked by Dan’s trails. You would be relieved and stoked if you finished one clean. You wouldn’t need to keep riding, it was enough to do one trail. It was just so scary and so technically challenging.”
The second rider to arrive on the scene was Wade Simmons. A former BMX and XC racing whippet he had a radically different way of seeing what was right in front of the North Shore riders eyes.
“Coming from Kamloops and having my BMX skills I opened their eyes to a different way of riding; a little more high speed, carving corners, bunny-hopping over things, pumping the terrain, you know. They were more about slow speed, trials Shore style.”
Wade continued to bring his BMX repertoire to the Shore and between he and Dan they pushed things skyward, literally and metaphorically, until someone had to notice. We have to remember still that this was the early nineties and bikes were rigid, brakes were just good intentions and stems were rudders. However, by the mid nineties technological innovation was gaining ground on demand but still, all this manufacturing and technological innovation needed a sales pitch.
Johnny Smoke summarizes the moment where it all came together. “It was the perfect storm: bikes were starting to work, trails got unique, then Wade Simmons turns up and shows everyone is what is up. Everyone had being riding for ten or fifteen years and this kids turns up and revolutionizes the paradigm of what is possible on a bike. Then the media grasp onto it and it becomes a marketeers dream.”
In 1997, Bike Magazine had printed a story about a small group of Canadian riders who were getting radical by riding their bikes down exposed clay cliffs and gravel quarries in the BC interior. The hyperbole that the article (and the release of Pulp Traction video around the same time) launched the careers of several Kamloops extremists. The industry grasped onto these totems and held them aloft as innovators and pioneers. Dangerous Dan felt that the glory that was being showered upon these guys was unjustified so he wrote a letter to the editor of Bike Magazine telling them about the underground scene of overpass building freaks.
By 1998 everyone knew about the Shore and they were just as hungry for it as any amount of sandbox skidding. Mitchell Scott had penned a story in Bike Magazine to uncover the truth to the rumours of Ewok workings; the story and accompanying photos became legendary. Sterling Lorence, a young West Vancouver chap who rode the Shore religiously had started trying to capture the scenes that were unfolding around him. His first roll of black and white film scored him a cover of the hallowed Bike Magazine Photo Annual that year and several other shots from that same roll became iconic images. The dark, moody, grainy monochrome images somehow took the chaos of the rain forest and made it simple, crisp, and highly graphic. You didn’t need to be a mountain biker to relate to the scene in the images. No translation was necessary.
“People thirsted for the style and look of the Shore because of the drama it had.” Being one of the few photographers to even dare brave the light starved forest and to so deftly capture the essence of it Sterling found his work was, and continues to be, in demand.
The same year two videos were released that focused in on the Shore – Kranked and North Shore Xtreme. The former was almost thirty six minutes of replicated gravel sliding broken only by a short North Shore section. The latter starred almost exclusively North Shore trails and riders. It was also put together by the man with a stake in everything North Shore, yep you guessed it, Digger.
North Shore Xtreme took the underground trails of the Shore and played them out in living rooms across the globe. Suddenly it was the hot ticket. The trails, the attire, equipment and the riding techniques was thrust into the limelight and fueled a world wide hunger for the gnar of the Shore. Riders instantly began migrating there and even now you can find imitations all over the globe, from Surrey to Moscow riders were building and riding “North Shore”. The North Shore became more than a place or even a movement, it became a noun.
Wade Simmons has been around the world and seen the impact of the North Shore first hand, “The steep and deep stuff you can get a lot of places, but the sensational stuff is what stuck and what people remember us for”.
However, not everyone was happy. The trails were on public land and the bikers didn’t have legal authority to build trails. There was criticism leveled at the riders and builders for environmental damage done to the forest and other land users felt their territory was being encroached on by hooligans with no regard for the safety of themselves, those around them or the environment.
North Vancouver Councillor Ernie Crist and local resident Monica Craver were the most outspoken, but of all the ‘villains’ the bikers have had over the years the most dangerous was the “Trails Terrorist”. No one knew exactly who this shadowy figure was, all they knew was that trails were being deliberately sabotaged to inflict serious bodily harm. Boobie-traps were laid, broken glass laid across trails, spears leveled at head height, ladder bridges cut so they would collapse under the weight of riders, planks removed from ladders; malicious acts purposely intended to cause injury. One popular theory was that the “trail terrorist” was a wealthy West Vancouver plastic surgeon
“He didn’t like mountain bikers at all, he thought we were ruining the trails. The trails he thought we were ruining we had built. Without us there wouldn’t be a trail for him to be walking on.” Digger, with a hands-on knowledge of the history of the Shore feels there was no blurry lines.
For a while things were rather scary. Eventually West Vancouver put up signs that said that it was a criminal offense to put obstacles on the trails and that calmed things down for a bit. People tried to catch the offender but no one could catch the suspect red handed. The vigilante acts soon died down, but perhaps because the war was about to radically change.
Digger remembers walking into the woods with his video camera one day. He was planning on filming on one of Dan’s trails, “Reaper”. “We walked in to the woods and thought we had gone into the trail the wrong way, but then we see the log, all cut up into pieces, and we are talking about a big log. So we go down further and the whole trail is massacred. We run into Sterling Lorence who had gone down a few other trails that morning and he told us they were all massacred. Everything.”
The West Vancouver council had had enough. They attacked the problem with barbed teeth and remorseless aggression. Complaints from residents of neighbouring areas and the fear of a liability lawsuit hung over their heads, but really set it off was because a young kid had ruptured his spleen falling off a stunt.
The North Shore extremist’s mantra of “Build it high, build it skinnie, build it sick” had caught up with them. Dan was seen as the ring leader, “The trail the kid fell off was not mine. Lots of other people were building these really stupid stunts so the West Vancouver district got involved and chainsawed the whole thing done.”
Around the same time the North Vancouver district ordered Dan to dismantle a trail on Fromme called “Swollen Uvula”. They said they were going to sue anyone involved with the trails if anyone got hurt on them.
It must be said that the ownership and management of the North Shore territory is not so straightforward. Cypress is under the jurisdiction (for the most part) of The City of West Vancouver, which also happens to be Canada’s richest municipality. Both Seymour and Grouse (Fromme) are under the jurisdiction of The City and District of North Vancouver and the Greater Vancouver Regional District. There are also other stakeholders like the British Properties (Guinness family), Grouse and Seymour recreational areas, as well as BC Parks.
Mountain biking is blind to these boundaries and the “Dog Town-esque creativity, honest fun, and danger, had no precedence. We weren’t influenced by anything but nature and possibilities we imagined”, says Sterling Lorence.
Of course, that kind of talk is what makes lawyers either jump for joy or jump out the window. At one point there was even talk of outlawing mountain biking. However, anytime you have conflict it brings people together and provides a foundation for people to stand shoulder to shoulder. “It was a dark time but it was unifying. It was bad for Dan, but it brought us together.” remarks Johnny Smoke.
The unification occurred when bikers descended on City Hall in the hundreds to object to the mountain biking being banned. Bikers, for years just handfuls of splinter cells of the same faction and operating completely in isolation saw that their own passion was shared by many others.
At this time the NSMBA (North Shore Mountain Bike Association) was also formed. There had been previously a lack of a grassroots organization capable of formulating a united response to land access threats. In response to this reality and the rumours in the winter of 1997 that Grouse Mountain Ski Resort were going to charge user fees for the trails, an impromptu and informal meeting at the Black Bear pub between Ken Maude, Lee Lau and Digger resulted in the decision to form a mountain bike advocacy group for the North Shore. After much discussion, a name was chosen, an executive was elected and a decision was made to incorporate as a not-for-profit society.
The NSMBA set about rectifying the negative public image of bikers. Then relationships with landowners were established and trail maintenance days were initiated to show the public that bikers were responsible stewards. Within their own circles bikers began to self-police. Word was spreading that things had to settle down for a while; building new trails or frivolous stunts would not be tolerated. Of course, this meant Dan and the niche he had made for himself was neutered. Other riders, like Wade, with more transferrable skill sets, were able to weather the storm and branch out. In fact, Wade Simmons won the very first Red Bull Rampage event in 2001. He had become famous for navigating the slick, wet, narrows of the North Shore but on the dry exposed mesas of Utah he spread his wings by out-maneuvering and dropping any and all comers.
Dan left the Shore in 2004 and moved to a tiny island in the Howe Sound where he continues to build the wildest, most ridiculous “trails” imaginable. “I speak to people from all over the world who build trails that imitate what I did back then. I went to India last year to do a demo for a guy who has built this amazing bike park full of skinnies.”
Digger kept building stunts for his NSX movies (there were ten in total), secreting away stashes of stunts that only he could find. That is until 2005 when Digger was given Cease and Desist order by District of North Vancouver Council and told not to step foot on Fromme again. It wasn’t until the winter of 2010 that he returned and quietly began bringing Ladies Only back to life. It is firmly agreed that this trail is the epitome and pinnacle of trail building.
The rest of the world moved on in many regards. Freeriding had took hold but it grew well beyond the awkward tight trails, skinnies and maneuvers of the Shore standard. BMX filtered in, jumps, gaps and tricks took over.
“The Massacre stalled mountain biking in Vancouver. There was a pause. The world was watching and wanted to come but we couldn’t invite them. Instead we pushed them away. Now when people come to BC they go to to Whistler or Squamish, North Van is deadened”, Sterling laments.
In 1999 Whistler Bike Park opened for business. Located 125km north of Vancouver, boasting a wide range of terrain that was easily accessed (chairlift!) this was the logical next step for freeride and recreational mountain biking. People wanted to get their rocks off and Whistler was the easy lady willing to hand it out, for a price.
Over the last decade the Shore settled down. The NSMBA and its hard working, dedicated volunteers have been laying the foundations for the next thirty years on the Shore. Trails are recognized and mountain biking is here to stay. Their work to get mountain biking accepted has paid off, not only on the offices of land managers and council boardrooms, but in the eyes of the public. These days there are more people mountain biking on the Shore than ever before. The demographics are far more spread than in the past too. It isn’t just twenty-something kick-backs with a Cali drawl or armour clad warriors going into battle with the wildest of torture machines. Now there are kids, parents, women, retirees as well.
The trails have evolved too. The oldest lines have worn down to channels in the forest’s organic mattress. Some are so worn that they bear no resemblance to the originals, other have been patched some many times that the character of the trail is forever changed. Some trails have been forgotten and reclaimed by the forest. The wooden features have mutated. They have fallen down, been taken down, or just reclaimed by nature. Trees fall, logs rot, the forest is animated with the cycle of life and death. The area these trails are on has been through far more than any amount of mischief that these mad men on their flying machines could do.
The movement has returned to crafting more natural lines. Also, there is a strong and silent renegade movement. These trails are “loamers”, and just like the very first trails they are barely etched in lines over the top of the duffy loam, no stunts, nothing built, secret entrances.
Jerry Willows, a rider who moved to the Shore at the height of the madness and who is was responsible for building trails that progressed beyond the downhill trials of the Shore thinks everything is in order and the cycle is complete. “Started renegade and you still have to have renegade people out there building stuff. There is a lot of land and a lot of people don’t want to be part of an organization where they are told what to build, where to build and that sort of stuff.”
The cycle of birth, death and re-birth feds everything in nature, in life, in the universe. The North Shore is just a tiny microcosm of that and where the specific ingredients came together to something unique and special to happen.
I would like to thank all the people who gave me the time to interview them and who answered my many questions. I would like to thank the board members of NSMB.com who also assisted in organizing the smokey history into some sort of order. There are many more stories and themes related to the history of the Shore but which could not be included due to space and thematic necessity. Next time.